COLUMBUS — Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, one of the state’s best-known politicians, and Democrat Richard Cordray, who headed the federal consumer protection bureau under President Barack Obama, prevailed Tuesday to head into a fall faceoff to succeed Republican Gov. John Kasich.
November’s general election will feature two moderates who fought off challenges from the Republican right and the Democratic left. It was one of the state’s nastiest and most unpredictable primary seasons in recent memory.
DeWine’s victory over Kasich’s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, followed a bitter and expensive campaign in which Taylor likened DeWine’s record to that of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and questioned his loyalty to President Donald Trump.
DeWine, who ran with Secretary of State Jon Husted, told supporters on Tuesday that his win was a recognition by the voters that the DeWine-Husted ticket “is what Ohioans want and what Ohioans need.”
“Jon Husted and I are the ticket with innovative ideas,” he said. “We are the ticket with bold and visionary policies and programs.”
Cordray, in his victory speech, congratulated DeWine for “winning one of the ugliest campaigns I have ever seen.”
Cordray, who’s 59, pledged to return Ohioans’ tax dollars to local communities, protect Medicaid expansion, fight opiate abuse and reduce gun violence.
“This victory happened for a reason,” Cordray said, addressing all Ohioans. “You demanded change, and we heard you, and we want the same.”
DeWine, who’s 71, served two terms in the U.S. Senate. He was endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party and was bolstered by his partnership with Husted, who dropped his own governor bid to become a running mate.
Cordray, meanwhile, had faced a surprisingly rigorous primary challenge from former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Cordray led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by Democratic Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, under Obama, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican. He featured Obama in his ads and campaigned with Warren.
But Kucinich, a feisty former Cleveland mayor who twice ran for president, energized voters with a liberal anti-gun, pro-environment platform. He attacked Cordray as an “establishment Democrat” whose pragmatism equaled a willingness to compromise his principles to special interests.
Kucinich’s efforts were ultimately hurt by revelations that he had taken a $20,000 speaking fee from a group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Kucinich said he’d return the money.
Cordray’s victory buoys Democratic hopes of reclaiming control of a critical battleground state, where Kasich is term-limited. Cordray and running mate Betty Sutton, a former northeast Ohio congresswoman, will lead one of the party’s strongest statewide tickets in recent memory into the fall on a campaign that’s expected to focus on the candidates’ efforts against consumer fraud, political corruption and voter disenfranchisement.
Democrats see opportunity in the seat being vacated by Kasich, a two-term governor and 2016 presidential contender, while Republicans hope to hold the office.
DeWine has defeated Cordray before, in a close race for state attorney general in 2010. And Cordray lost a four-way Democratic primary in 2000 for the seat held by DeWine, who was in his first Senate term.
Cordray’s lively primary against Kucinich and two other main contenders, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, was viewed as a beneficial public vetting for him.
O’Neill said he called Cordray on Tuesday and pledged his support in the upcoming election.
“We started as friends; we ended as friends,” O’Neill said. “We kicked around ideas, but we didn’t kick around each other.”
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